Change Management
May 7, 2012

Recruiting the best and the brightest

CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007

Most observers will be acutely aware of the pending increased demand for young professionals in the public sector. This is due, in part, to the aging work force that, having earned full pension rights, will either retire or look for alternate employment in other sectors of the economy in the next five years.

One of the most interesting aspects will be the way in which the public sector approaches recruitment. Human resource experts know that, under the best of circumstances, recruiting is one of the most difficult and important management functions. Michelle DiEmanuel, the former Deputy Minister of Government Services in Ontario, said in these pages that, “each time we hire an individual, the organization is making a $1.5 million decision” – the salary over a typical 20-year career.

Recruiting the next generation of managers and leaders is going to be particularly challenging. First, young professionals have been brought up in an internet-enabled and ever-changing environment. The competition for talent will be partly determined by how quickly employers complete the hiring process. Governments’ preoccupation with process and fairness slows them down. They will have to respond to the nimbleness of the private sector in generating a job offer.

Second, young professionals are well educated and have high expectations about what the work place can do for them. The current generation is neither patient nor willing to put in long hours in the hope that the job will become interesting in a few years.

Third, evidence suggests that young professionals are looking for employment with challenging opportunities to learn on the job before moving on to a new work environment. The notion of career is not as important to young people.

Fortunately, there are many good examples of governments responding to the realities of the marketplace by implementing young professional recruitment programs. Ontario, for example, has established a separate website for new professionals (www.gojobs.gov.on.ca/YNPS.asp) that offers applicants exciting jobs in a wide range of work experiences. The pitch is that careers in the Ontario public service are exciting, take place in stimulating environments where people work with others who also want to make a difference, have competitive pay and benefits, and offer lots of mobility. In return, Ontario is looking for the best qualified and most motivated. In a twist of marketing genius, the recruitment ads deal with common misconceptions of government employment by tackling the view that government jobs are “tedious” and “cut off from the demands of real life,” and that employees are “stuck forever in the same job, doing the same thing.”

British Columbia has also mounted a very professional campaign to attract a new generation of workers. Its campaign, Where Ideas Work, suggests to potential applicants that they can make a difference (http://employment.gov.bc.ca). The pitch is that the BC public service is “uniquely positioned to positively impact the lives of millions of British Columbians and to provide a high degree of exposure and job mobility across many different subject areas.” Under the Pacific Leaders Program, the province has implemented innovative techniques, such as two-year graduate fellowships worth $20,000 per annum, a program to forgive student loans for employees who work in the public service for three years, scholarships for employees to pursue further education and up to 60 scholarships each year of $2,500 for children of public servants.

Both of these provincial programs are designed to attract young professionals who have an interest in careers working for the public good. But they also recognize that public services no longer own the franchise for public interest oriented careers. NGOs, think tanks, private sector consulting firms, interest groups, green companies, and even entrepreneurship focused on doing good while doing well compete for the noble-minded. Recruiters need to aggressively market their jobs in the face of such competition.

Despite the changes, the principles of good recruiting still apply. Recruiters must be clear about what skills and values they are looking for. They must create a network and methods to find the kind of people that are needed. They should take full advantage of multiple technologies (old and new) to get the word out to prospects. They must encourage people to apply so that employers have the chance to select from the most complete pool of candidates possible.

Through branding and aggressive recruiting, the public sector of tomorrow will continue to attract the best and the brightest to its work force. The new leadership cadre will have different skill sets than those they replace and a different perspective on the society in which they work. The next challenge will be retaining them with an interesting and challenging work place.

David Zussman is a Commissioner of the Public Service Commission. He holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the School of Public and International Affairs and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa (zussman@management.uottawa) or through the Jarislowsky Chair website, www3.management.uottawa.ca/Jarislowsky.

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